There are walls all around us. We live our lives realizing that we have to live with rules and limitations. We have laws to obey, values to live by, families we are part off, countries we live in, services we make use of, gravity that pulls us down, freedom of speech, natural resources, food, water, money. Everything we do in life comes with a set of rules.
The existence of some of these boundaries is something we tend to ignore. We are taught to aim for the highest, get the best out of our own potential, be a winner. There are no problems, only challenges. Can you see an athletic coach explaining to the world fastest sprinter that it is impossible to sprint 100m in 4.5 seconds? No way. You need to train harder, overcome your fears and doubts. You can accomplish anything if you really want to. Work hard until you reach your goals. Just do it!
We don’t like it to be captured. If we bump into a boundary we will try to get around it. If it is a problem, we will try to resolve it. If the wall is bigger then ourselves we will try to mobilize others to help us.If we don’t deal with a wall that stands in the way then at least we will complain often about it (dissatisfied customers that can’t leave a service).
It seems to me that we sometimes act very differently online. Sure, if there is something to complain about we harness the power of all the publishing tools and cry outrage. But when it comes to the core of our online presence, our personal identity we willingly accept the boundaries that the big web companies have set for us.
There is a war out there, a battle to own your online identity. Driven by network value based business models service providers aim at unlimited growth. We get sucked into the best web 20 services. It’s free and it’s cool. Big service providers fights to get you in and then never let you out. It’s like a black hole. You, your personal data, your interactions and friends.
We seem to accept this a a fait accompli. That is the way the web works. Nothing we can do about it. We give away our online identity for free and in return accept the boundaries and limitations the service providers give us. Google shows you their web, which is different from Yahoo’s web, or Facebook’s web for that matter. We let Social Networks own and exploit our personal data, our interactions, our family and our friends. We create the value of those networks ourselves yet accept that these networks impose (sometimes ridiculous) boundaries on us.
All effort goes into enlarging the network, the data, and few big service providers put as much effort in setting you and your data free again from that very service. Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t all bad, or even intentional. And the value we get in return can be very high! I’m a happy user of many web 2.0 services and I am amazed at what technology can do for us. There are many services, organizations and individuals out there that have a user value focus.
However we are often blinded by the coolness factor, the joy, the zero cost participation, hype created by the media, following the crowd, getting sucked in by friends (that’s called viral growth, which in itself doesn’t have a very healthy sound) we join everything and accept that our online identity isn’t ours. But at what cost?
The biggest threat in my opinion is that in this process we let a few very big service provider decide for us where the walls are build. What boundaries and rules we need to live by. We are giving away our online identity for free in order to be able to participate.
Tim O’Reilly nailed the web 2.0 definition when he said:
Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them.
It has become part of our history books now. The network effect Tim mentions has lead to an undesirable side effect. Driven by network value business models some service providers are not just viewing the Internet as a platform. Instead they are aiming to ensure that their own platform becomes the Internet!
That is a boundary I’m personally not willing to accept. Why should I be confined to one network, or accept that my online identity is not only scattered but not even my own? In a true service provider model, the user is in control of his identity, his data and his interactions. The user needs to be able to define his own ‘Terms of Service’, which are to be respected by the service provider. It’s web 2.0, inside out.
It is something I am passionate about. It’s why I write about it often. But that isn’t enough. I can’t complain about it if I am not really contributing to changing this. I feel I should take my own responsibility and join those that are already working on it, no matter how small or insignificant my contribution is.
It means professionally that I’ll be spending as much time and effort on letting users control their own identity, data and interactions, as I spend time on getting these users in the first place. It means changing the ‘terms of service’ from protecting a business (model) to serving the user. It means embracing standards like OpenId to let people decide where they create their online identity. It means supporting efforts to define solutions that will put the user in control of his online identity.
Joining discussions already taking place. Helping the big service providers change their strategy. Making sure that the Internet isn’t confined to a single platform. Choosing business models that leverage user value instead of network value. And perhaps most important of all, educating those unaware of the importance of their online identity. It’s an effort for the long run. I don’t expect fast changes or revolutions over night. But any journey start simply by taking the first step, and by writing this down.
I’m taking my first and I’m joining those that have already gone down this path.